Washington House Bill 1991

Creating an academic bill of rights.

State of Washington 59th Legislature 2005 Regular Session

By Representatives Dunn, Wallace and Schindler
Read first time 02/14/2005. Referred to Committee on Higher Education.

AN ACT Relating to creating an academic bill of rights; adding a new section to chapter 28B.10 RCW; and creating a new section.


NEW SECTION. Sec. 1 The legislature finds that:

(1) The central purposes of a university are the pursuit of truth, the discovery of new knowledge through scholarship and research, the study and reasoned criticism of intellectual and cultural traditions, the teaching and general development of students to help them become creative individuals and productive citizens of a pluralistic democracy, and the transmission of knowledge and learning to a society at large. Free inquiry and free speech within the academic community are indispensable to the achievement of these goals. The freedom to teach and to learn depend upon the creation of appropriate conditions and opportunities on the campus as a whole as well as in classrooms and lecture halls. These purposes reflect the values, pluralism, diversity, opportunity, critical intelligence, openness, and fairness, that are the cornerstones of American society.

(2) Academic freedom and intellectual diversity are values indispensable to American universities. From its first formulation in the "General Report of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure of the American Association of University Professors," the concept of academic freedom has been premised on the idea that human knowledge is a never-ending pursuit of the truth, that there is no humanly accessible truth that is not in principle open to challenge, and that no party or intellectual faction has a monopoly on wisdom. Therefore, academic freedom is most likely to thrive in an environment of intellectual diversity that protects and fosters independence of thought and speech. In the words of the general report, it is vital to protect "as the first condition of progress, [a] complete and unlimited freedom to pursue inquiry and publish its results."

(3) Because free inquiry and its fruits are crucial to the democratic enterprise itself, academic freedom is a national value as well. In a historic 1967 decision, Keyishian v. Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York, the supreme court of the United States overturned a New York state loyalty provision for teachers with these words: "Our Nation is deeply committed to safeguarding academic freedom, [a] transcendent value to all of us and not merely to the teachers concerned." In Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 1957, the court observed that the "essentiality of freedom in the community of American universities [was] almost self-evident."

(4) Academic freedom consists in protecting the intellectual independence of professors, researchers, and students in the pursuit of knowledge and the expression of ideas from interference by legislators or authorities within the institution itself. This means that no political, ideological, or religious orthodoxy will be imposed on professors and researchers through the hiring, tenure, or termination process, or through any other administrative means by the academic institution. Nor shall legislatures impose any such orthodoxy through their control of the university budget.

(5) This protection includes students. From the first statement on academic freedom, it has been recognized that intellectual independence means the protection of students, as well as faculty, from the imposition of any orthodoxy of a political, religious, or ideological nature. The 1915 general report admonished faculty to avoid "taking unfair advantage of the student's immaturity by indoctrinating him with the teacher's own opinions before the student has had an opportunity fairly to examine other opinions upon the matters in question, and before he has sufficient knowledge and ripeness of judgment to be entitled to form any definitive opinion of his own." In 1967, the American association of university professors' "Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students" reinforced and amplified this injunction by affirming the inseparability of "the freedom to teach and freedom to learn." In the words of the report, "Students should be free to take reasoned exception to the data or views offered in any course of study and to reserve judgment about matters of opinion."

NEW SECTION. Sec. 2 A new section is added to chapter 28B.10 RCW to read as follows:
To secure the intellectual independence of faculty and students and to protect the principle of intellectual diversity, the following principles and procedures shall be observed. These principles apply only to public universities and to private universities that present themselves as bound by the canons of academic freedom. Private institutions choosing to restrict academic freedom on the basis of creed must explicitly disclose the scope and nature of these restrictions.

(1) All faculty shall be hired, fired, promoted, and granted tenure on the basis of their competence and appropriate knowledge in the field of their expertise and, in the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts, with a view toward fostering a plurality of methodologies and perspectives. No faculty may be hired, fired, or denied promotion or tenure on the basis of his or her political or religious beliefs.

(2) No faculty member may be excluded from tenure, search, and hiring committees on the basis of the member's political or religious beliefs.

(3) Students will be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines they study, not on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.

(4) Curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences should reflect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas by providing students with dissenting sources and viewpoints where appropriate. While teachers are and should be free to pursue their own findings and perspectives in presenting their views, they should consider and make their students aware of other viewpoints. Academic disciplines should welcome a diversity of approaches to unsettled questions.

(5) Exposing students to the spectrum of significant scholarly viewpoints on the subjects examined in their courses is a major responsibility of faculty. Faculty will not use their courses for the purpose of political, ideological, religious, or antireligious indoctrination.

(6) Selection of speakers, allocation of funds for speakers' programs, and other student activities will observe the principles of academic freedom and promote intellectual pluralism.

(7) An environment conducive to the civil exchange of ideas is an essential component of a free university; the obstruction of invited campus speakers, destruction of campus literature, or other effort to obstruct this exchange is prohibited.

(8) Knowledge advances when individual scholars are left free to reach their own conclusions about which methods, facts, and theories have been validated by research. Academic institutions and professional societies formed to advance knowledge within an area of research, maintain the integrity of the research process, and organize the professional lives of related researchers serve as indispensable venues within which scholars circulate research findings and debate their interpretation. To perform these functions adequately, academic institutions and professional societies should maintain a posture of organizational neutrality with respect to the substantive disagreements that divide researchers on questions within, or outside, their fields of inquiry.

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